After almost a decade of planning, fundraising and consultations (not to mention a global pandemic) Manchester Jewish Museum has reopened following a £6 million redevelopment. The new museum boasts a brand-new gallery to showcase its collections documenting the social history of Jewish Manchester, alongside a new café, learning studio and kitchen, collection store and welcome atrium.
But alongside the physical changes to the museum, there has also been a fundamental change in the museum’s mission and values. The new museum defines itself as a place to experience and explore how we are different, together. Its four core values are: Imagination, Bravery, Belonging, and Impact. The museum’s values are behind everything the new museum offers; from the new café’s menu offering vegetarian adaptations of traditional Jewish recipes, to the training and recruitment process for staff and volunteers.
Situated in Cheetham Hill, on of the UK’s most culturally diverse areas, the museum serves a broad audience. The area has historically been a melting pot for new arrivals into the city and was once Manchester’s historic Jewish quarter, though the Jewish population of Manchester is now much more dispersed across the region. The museum’s Grade II* listed synagogue itself once served the city’s Sephardi population whose origins come from Spain and Portugal. Now the museum serves a dual purpose of representing the Jewish communities of Manchester past and present, as well as being a community space for residents of Cheetham Hill.
One of the challenges of representing Jewish identities is the diversity of what it means to be Jewish. The museum’s new gallery takes great care to highlight that there is no singular way to ‘be Jewish’. For example, the Identities Gallery presents 16 different individual stories that cover a wide range of lived experiences covering different ethnicities, gender identities, sexuality, levels of orthodoxy and political opinion.
In the design of the new building, the museum consulted with its local communities to understand the barriers and motivations to attendance. This led to significant changes including the construction of a new entrance as some audiences found entering through the synagogue doors intimidating, and putting the new vegetarian café at the front and centre at the building.
The museum’s programme puts audiences at its heart, seeking ways to form deeper connections with its audiences and facilitate exchanges as it works with community groups and visiting artists. It boldly explores and combines educational, cultural and artistic experiences to encourage its audiences to feel and believe that we are all better, together.
The reopening has been a tremendous success for the museum, welcoming over 4,000 visitors in their first two months and receiving national acclaim from press, industry and visitors alike. It is with a heavy heart that the museum sees Andrew step down as chair, but also with gratitude for everything he has achieved in assisting and leading the museum to its current position and leaving it in a stronger position than ever and with a real clarity of purpose.
Manchester Jewish Museum is open seven days a week from 10am-5pm, later for evening events. www.manchesterjewishmuseum.com
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